I work in a library. I’m not a librarian. Don’t call me that. I’ve always appreciated libraries. That fondness has only magnified now that I work in one, witnessed first hand the value libraries provide through free, unlimited information. So there’s a sting when I overhear a teenager, backpack slung over her shoulder, who readily admits to her friend that she “hasn’t been to the library since I was, like, six.” Or the high schooler who meekly approaches the circulation desk to check out items and asks, “How much does it cost to take these out?”
Where have these kids been? Have they ever grown curious about the big building on the corner with its parking lot filled to capacity? I remember, though, that this lethargic attitude toward local libraries doesn’t lie solely with tweeting teenagers. Adults, too, seem proud of themselves when proclaiming, “I haven’t read a book in years. Now, how do I check out?”
Library visitors will surely diminish over the next decade as books transition to digital formats. The Kindle is shaping up to be the final nail in the tradition book coffin. Recently, a few library directors in North Carolina spoke about the future of libraries on WFAE’s “Charlotte Talks”. You can get the podcast for a limited time here.
Host Mike Collins continually asked the fundamental question: “If I can have access to free information on the internet, what is the point of a library?” The show’s guests, obviously, danced around the question, stressing the other positives that libraries offer – meeting place, internet access, free training. Fact is, the library’s number one product – the book – will evolve. The question is “How soon?” And will libraries survive the digital transition?
Library systems, like Charlotte-Mecklenburg, aren’t standing idly by, and their willingness to evolve with its main product will ensure that Charlotte libraries stay relevant. They currently offer free downloads on a number of texts as well as a free language learning software, to name a few services. This is how libraries will survive: By continuing to serve their communities with free information for those who seek it. Perhaps I’m over simplifying this, but it seems so logical. Provide a great service that is readily accessible to your patrons, and you win. The Kindle, a Google reader, whichever reader software sticks, libraries can stay relevant.
Will library directors embrace this change or long for the days of stamps and card catalogues?